Just landed my first official freelance gig...Advice Please!

First, I would like to send a warm greeting to all my fellow i-designers. I hope everything is going well and look forward to a positive and exciting 2009.

Speaking of positivity, I just landed my first freelance position and would like to inquire about advice from those of you who have already crossed this bridge. I like to think that I am pretty organized and on top of things, but a little “I wish I would have done this when I first started freelancing” type of advice will be much welcomed.

Please post your advice, anecdotes, and/or funny stories here. I’m sure all types of industrial designers will find your advice useful. Thanks for your time and I look forward to your reply.


My advice…

Don’t charge too low.

I won’t tell you how much to charge, and no one will.

But if you’re thinking you’re going to charge $10-$30 an hour, you’re way low.

I wish someone would have told me not to charge $20/hr when I got my first freelance gig. Your skill is worth more, and so is your education.

Keep a record of all you work. I had one job way back where I did all the final sketches on 11x17" paper. When it came down to it, I couldn’t get access to a big scanner and ended up giving the client my original real paper sketches…live and learn. Congratulations.

Take what you think you’re worth and then double it. Quote that price. You’ll work more than the hours you can bill and undercutting yourself upfront means setting the bar for all work going forward with this client. Keep records, be professional but personal- give them the positive “client experience” of working with one cool, attentive, unique designer. Be realistic and communicate any issues or needs ASAP. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and over deliver! Most of all, good luck! :stuck_out_tongue:

Work hard, keep records of everything, and be accessible! You’re a seal now, you’ll be the one they call for the emergency deadlines when the fulltimers are on vacation.
If you plan on doing it full-time, save your money and put aside 1/3 of your pay for taxes. Keep all of your business receipts separate, it’ll make things much easier at tax time. Good luck, welcome to the club!

Pick up a copy of QuickBooks to help with the paperwork. Its a wonderful tool. (This of course if you’re planning on doing this full time.)

Points taken…thanks. Any advice on negotiating a salary when this position turns full time. I’m not trying to sound cocky, (I really dislike cockynesss) but I’m confident enough to know that the work will provide my client will knock their socks off. What are the best ways to ask for more dough while not coming off as insulting. I would love to hear advice from an employer’s point of view.

general rule for freelance rate conversion to full time =

freelance rate per hour x20 = annual salary.

ie. $40/hour freelance = $80,000/yr.

it’s a bit give and take though as salary includes benefits and depending on your operation freelance could include more overhead (ie. if you are renting a studio, etc.).



This works if you know you’re contracted for a full workload (40hrs/wk). If he’s really freelancing, for multiple clients, etc…he’ll most likely have some down-time. Some months really busy, other months no clients. If you want to do this full-time, make sure you factor in your potential downtime. Ideally that would be none and you have to turn away clients, then you’ll clean up :slight_smile:

ya, sorry, i should have explained that. you are correct. In actual fact because of this (that most freelancers don’t work 40h/wk, freelancers rates are often double this guideline (ie. closer to $80/h+).

bottom line though, as i’ve said over and over, you can only charge what someone is willing to pay. Plus don’t forget that hourly rate is only part of it. how many hours you budget/take to do something is the other key variable. (ie. you could charge $200/h and do a job in 5 hours or charge $100/h and do it in 2.5 hours. net, same thing.).


This: but don’t show it to any other prospective clients until it’s out in the market place. Respect client confidentiality.

thanks again for your detailed advice, i’ll definitely keep it all in mind. rkuchinsky, you’re absolutely right about the bottom line (charge what they’re willing to pay). I’ve made the mistake to under-value my time and work according to your salary formula. Now I’m stuck with the initial offer that I made them. First lesson learned. Now I hope to find that magic time variable to make my work more valuable. All in all, I’m stoked about having a job designing. I’ll continue to post my design adventures here in return for future advice. grazie mille.


  • Always assume everything will take double the time (at least).

  • Try and get an advance payment.

  • Don’t stress, it’s all good.

Yes. Always always get a deposit of some sort prior to doing any research or sketches. Never get suckered into doing free sketches prior to seeing some upfront money.

One of the oldest and most common tricks bad clients have is to ask for free sketches to claim to see if you can do the work but most likely they wouldn’t be talking to you if they had not pre-screened your portfolio and liked your work already. Sketches are the highest value deliverable in my opinion and some clients will try to downplay that part to try to sucker you into giving them the answers they are seeking.

Don’t give out any answers until some deposit is made so that you aren’t at a total loss if they cancel and run away.

I also never deliver final work without payment of a balance. It may be hard to do if you are going hourly with a corporate client but I always try to use a COD method prior to handing over CAD files.

Sad to say but there are many cons out there and common tricks you will start seeing over and over. After a few burns and hard lessons, you will begin to be able to recognize the cons and those who aren’t really intending to pay. In the future you will learn who to avoid.

Always stick to your principles cause when you waiver from your own safeguards, that’s when you get bitten.

Good luck!

In todays ‘economic downturn’ I think you have to make things as easy as possible for the client to offer you the job, which can mean taking a few risks. I always send over work before any payment and I’ve only once not been paid… which was to be expected, my own fault, which is why you have to do your best to weigh up the client first. Unless its a really big job! Then get a Purchase Order and maybe don’t deliver until you’ve been paid. But then again it depends who you’re dealing with… is it Nokia or some random that you don’t have an address for. Just use your common sense. I don’t know how it works in the US but in the UK you’re usually paid 30 days after delivering work.

And also from experience I’d say give the price, but if they can’t pay that much don’t turn down the job (if you’re not busy). Some designers are too proud and refuse to do work for less than they think it’s worth (awaiting a load of replies that say this is bad for the design business in general!), but this can help to get a repeat client/future jobs… just try and keep them happy and do a good job. Especially in these financial times… it’s not just about what the job is worth it’s about what people can pay. Some other designer here charge 4 times as much as me, they’re proud of their day rate, but they’re losing out on not having work at the moment.

Also though, don’t let them walk all over you. You just have to be reasonable, sensible and approachable. It’s often 50% customer service. Not all about design.

As a final thing… if you do 3D rendering just send a low res proof first. Then get in writing/email that this is suitable, then send hi res. This is why I hate phone calls… nothing is recorded and I’m sure a lot of clients know this!

I try to convey the value of my work so as to avoid being low-balled. It’s good if you have a track record of how many of this design sold or the story behind what your designs did for the client. How it cut costs or opened up new business opportunities and how much money they made or saved from your innovations.

If they balk at fees try asking them how many units they intend to make and then divide it by your design fee. They’ll see that the design fee becomes tiny the more units they make. Whatever they paid for the design pales in comparison to their profits gained from the final product. In some industries like furniture, or eyewear, shoes, the design literally makes or breaks the product in the eyes of the consumer. Some people can live with a ugly ass computer if the performance is there but fashion/style items are heavily design dependant and has great value.

Also ask them to compare with the cost of a full-time employee with salary, benefits, vacation and sick leave time, bonuses, 401Ks etc. and they will see why hiring you as a freelancer is cheaper with no strings attached and no other liabilities. That is a cost savings that they can compare with. Then your hourly rate doesn’t seem so expensive.

um, i dunno…

comparing design costs to number of units may make sense, but in reality I don’t think it’s a number any exec would take any meaning from. Profits and such don’t amortize fixed costs like design into the equation. you wouldn’t divide the cost of your rent by the number of units sold, so why would you do that for design…?

comparing to a full time employee’s cost is also a losing strategy i think. as mentioned before, your hourly rate is likely double a salaried employees to take into account you don’t work 40hours a week and have benefits. most good consultants are paid way more than salaried employees because they are better, not because they are equal or cheaper.

one tactic though that might work is to compare the cost of your services to the tooling/engineering costs. likely your design costs less than the tooling, and that is a number they can relate to.

some good other advice here though. I’d also suggest to search the forums as i know similar threads have come up in the past.


I’d also add to think about your relationship goals when thinking of price. If it’s someplace that may use you frequently, or you’d like consistent work with them, it may be worth lowering your rates for the long-term return and relationship as opposed to billing as much as possible but then having them only use you once a year. Sometimes that lower “relationship” rate will help you make more money than if you kept your higher, “weekend rush” rate.
It’s all strategy, different people have different comfort levels with certain tactics. Some that are good salesmen may like the “hit and run”, charge high, design for them once, but have lots of clients, and that will be successful for them.
Others that may not be as comfortable with constantly looking for new clients might go with a lower rate/more work from the same client strategy.

Make sure you have a clause in the contract or T&C’s which says something like

“The transfer of rights, knowledge and intellectual property shall pass into the unrestricted ownership of the client, with the right of exclusive use, upon payment of the fee specified in the contract.”

It means that unless you get paid the full amount, you still own all rights to the work. It’s a useful bargaining chip as a last resort if a client is refusing to pay some or all the money agreed, because it contains the implied threat that you could publicise the work or make it available to a competitor.

Curious, what do you charge per hour and how much is your typical shoe project in USD$?

I am doing a phone design and some charge as little as $9K - $15K up to 3D CAD while others I’ve seen are at $150K and up. There’s a great disparity in the freelance world and some come in way low whereas others seemingly borderline on top tier firm fees.

Some look at the size of the client and factor in how many they will eventually be selling so they are quoting based more on value rather than hours.

Some clients are inventors or small start-ups while others are bigname brands. Eventhough the small inventors need a lot of handholding their fees are generally lower than if the same work was asked for by a large coporation.

In the end I guess it’s what you can get.